The Trump White House has taken the extraordinary step of distributing talking points to allies of the president trashing one of its employees.
The talking points, which were shared with The Daily Beast, focus on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified publicly on Tuesday that he had registered complaints about President Donald Trump’s call with the Ukraine president during which Trump appeared to try to leverage aid for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
On Tuesday morning, White House aide Julia Hahn emailed Trump surrogates under the subject line, “Vindman’s Complaints Are Nothing More Than Policy Disagreements,” according to messages reviewed by The Daily Beast. Hahn, a Steve Bannon protégée and one of his former allies in the White House, works on outreach and communications involving pro-Trump talking heads and other players in conservative media.
“There was nothing wrong with the call with Zelensky at all, Vindman was just upset that President Trump was leading foreign policy instead of sticking to Vindman’s talking points,” one of her email reads. “But it’s not Vindman’s job to set foreign policy, it’s the President’s.”
In another email blasted out a few minutes later, Hahn wrote: “Vindman Has Major Credibility Issues.”
Hahn’s memo continued: “Vindman has faced accusations of poor judgement, leaking, and going around normal procedures,” and slams the current White House official using excerpts from Tim Morrison’s prior Hill testimony. “There were concerns that Vindman had improperly accessed information he wasn’t supposed to see.”
Vindman serves on Trump’s national security council as director of European Affairs—a post that has thrust him into a central role in the impeachment drama embroiling the White House. He was on the infamous July 25 call with President Zelensky and on Tuesday he testified that the call was “inappropriate” and posed a risk to U.S. national security interests. Republicans on the dais raised questions about Vindman’s loyalty to the country and the White House responded by attacking him via its official Twitter feed.
And yet, through it all, Vindman remains employed in the administration even as he has reportedly reached out to the Army for protection for his family. That he remains there despite the White House attacking him underscores the internal drama that has erupted inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue amidst the impeachment inquiry.
Unwilling to promptly fire or reassign people who he has viewed as insubordinate, the president and his team have often turned to retribution, character assassination, and political knife-fighting instead. In the days leading up to the public impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill, Trump has made it clear that he wanted his allies and lieutenants to bludgeon the opposition—whether it be those testifying or the Democrats running the hearings. Officials in the White House counsel's office, press shop, legislative affairs, and communications, along with Trump surrogates and allies on the Hill, have coordinated to develop their rapid-response game plans and party lines for each public impeachment hearing—to aggressively “play offense,” as a senior Trump administration official characterized it.
“There was one time where he kept saying that Republicans needed to fight harder,” said one source who spoke to Trump in the past two weeks. “He said he wanted fireworks.”